Couldn't find element LayerAd

Error finding content

The Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation - Windows to the Universe

Shop Windows to the Universe

Dig into Montana Before History: 11K Years of Hunter-Gatherers in the Rockies and Plains by D. H. MacDonald, Ph.D. See our online store book collection.
A detailed view of the Cosmic Microwave Background from WMAP, compared to the original view from the COBE satellite.
Click on image for full size
NASA/WMAP Science Team

The Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation

In the 1960's, a pair of scientists noticed some annoying static (like you hear on the radio) when trying to use a special radio antenna. The strange thing about the noise was that it was coming from every direction and never got stronger or weaker. If the static were from something on our world, like radio transmissions from a nearby airport control tower, it would only come from one direction, not everywhere. The scientists soon realized they had discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation.

This radiation is a form of energy, like the microwaves which microwave ovens produce to cook food. It fills the entire Universe, and is believed to be a clue to the Universe's brilliant beginning, known as the Big Bang. Astronomers believe that this energy, which was trapped by electrons in the early, hot universe, escaped when the universe cooled enough for hydrogen atoms to form.

More recently, the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) team has made a more detailed full-sky map of this oldest light in the universe. The WMAP image brings the COBE picture into sharp focus, and provides firm answers to age-old questions. WMAP resolves slight temperature fluctuations, which vary by only a few millionths of a degree. These new data support and strengthen the Big Bang and Inflation Theories.

Last modified April 29, 2005 by Travis Metcalfe.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

The Fall 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist, which includes articles on student research into building design for earthquakes and a classroom lab on the composition of the Earth’s ancient atmosphere, is available in our online store.

Windows to the Universe Community



You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Capturing the Afterglow of the Big Bang

After the Big Bang, the universe was really hot! The leftover heat from that time is still around today. It is called Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMB). CMB radiation is everywhere! It is in...more

Capturing the Afterglow of the Big Bang (Updated!)

Good news! The Microwave Anisotropy Probe (MAP) was launched successfully last Saturday! Liftoff happened on time on June 30, 2001. The MAP teams says they couldn't have asked for a better start to the...more

The Oldest Light in the Universe

NASA scientists have taken a "snapshot" picture of the oldest light in the universe. The picture shows what is left of light given off during the big bang. The light is over 13 billion years...more

Gamma Ray Bursts - The Most Powerful Objects in the Universe?

Satellites in the 1960's looked for a type of light called Gamma Rays. They found bursts of Gamma Rays coming from outer space! They can't hurt you. They are stopped by the Earth's atmosphere. We have...more

Galaxies - Star Cities

When we look up at the night sky, we notice that there are many stars in our sky. Stars must like to live together in star cities - galaxies. Our city of stars is called the Milky Way, and it is home to...more

Neutron Stars

Neutron Stars form when really big stars die. When such a star runs out of fuel its center begins to collapse under gravity. When the center collapses the entire star collapses. The surface of the star...more

Spiral Galaxies

Spiral galaxies may remind you of a pinwheel that blows in the breeze. Like a pinwheel, a spiral galaxy is rotating, and it has spiral arms. Through a telescope or binoculars,a spiral galaxy may look...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF